Big 5 Tip-off Tonight; Penn, 'Nova, Joe's and La Salle All in Action

Big 5 Tip-off Tonight; Penn, 'Nova, Joe's and La Salle All in Action

It's that time again. Teams across the nation will kick off the opening night of college basketball season this Friday evening—two of them will do so on an air craft carrier.

Of the schools that comprise our local Big 5, four will be in action, with only the Temple Owls on the sidelines. They will open their season next Monday night in the official "Big 5 opener" when they take on the Penn Quakers from inside the Palestra.

Game times and opponents for each of the local team's, accompanied by a brief preview of the major story lines surrounding each program as they prepare to begin their 2011-2012 seasons, after the jump...

(1) The Villanova University Wildcats vs. the Monmouth Hawks (7 p.m.)
It seems like just about everybody is down on the Wildcats this year. I'm no exception. Though I'll be damned if I don't like watching Maalik Wayns play basketball.

This is the first year in some time where Villanova doesn't boast instantly recognizable names in its back court. The legacy of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes is now passed to the less publicized, but still highly talented Wayns. The Wildcats were something of a flawed team last year, which perhaps was part of the reason Maalik would come and go on the offensive end, exploding one night and looking invisible another.

Chalk it up as part of the maturation process for the now-junior. In a guard heavy city, Wayns has the talent to be one the best, it's just a matter of whether he has the roster around him to help lead his team. Big man Mouphtaou Yarou will need to take a massive step forward if the 'Cats expect to do better than their preseason No. 8 in the Big East.

(2) The La Salle University Explorers vs. the Lafayette Leopards (7 p.m. / 990 AM)
Every year I write that head coach John Giannini is on the hot seat, that his emotional outbursts haven't correlated with a positive win total and that his ability to recruit very real talent hasn't led to any sort of cohesion on the floor. Still, every year I type this paragraph, because every year Dr. G remains the man in charge at the Gola Arena.

I wish I could say more for the Explorers, but with their greatest and most wildly enigmatic talent—Aaric Murray—now walking the streets of Morgantown, West Virginia, it's hard to see them being markedly better or, for that matter, worse than they've been in recent years. La Salle has made a habit of winning games it shouldn't win, losing games it shouldn't lose, and keeping you guessing about how good or bad it really is for three-fourths of the season. I don't mean to be so pithy, but unless freshman Jerrell Wright and and newcomer Ramon Galloway are ready to contribute immediately, there's little reason not to expect more of the same at Broad & Olney.

That said, Giannini seems more than excited for the season, and has not-so-subtly hinted at a dissatisfaction with his past players.

"We now have kids who will do what we tell them, and they're committed to winning and committed to defense," Giannini said, practically oozing enthusiasm. "Some teams don't have that. Last year, we didn't have that. We have great chemistry right now. These kids work hard without someone calling team meetings or without their teammates yelling at them trying to push each other."

It's tough to tell if this is the legitimate optimism of a coach with something of a fresh start, or the false hope that things will, this time, really be better. Hopefully for his staff's future, Dr. G is right about this group of Explorers, but keep on the lookout as I establish a charity fund to help stop the abuse of the folding chair seated beside the head coach.

(3) University of Pennsylvania Quakers @ the UMBC Retrievers. (7:30 p.m. / 88.5 FM)
Penn enters its season on the strength of a veteran back court, featuring senior guards Zack Rosen and Tyler Bernadini. Rosen—who has been described by his coach as "one of the best, if not the best guard in our program's history"—has the privilege of playing under Jerome Allen: one of the best, if not the best guard in the program's history.

Aiming to settle their friendly rivalry, the two recently went at it in a pick-up game of one-on-one, televised on Comcast SportsNet. The game, originally agreed to be played to three, was quickly extended when Rosen bested the coach. It quickly ended when Allen was the first to get to five. Not only does the old guy still have it, but he's also in control of when the game starts and stops.

Rosen and Bernadini will attempt to lead Penn back to the glory it so enjoyed when it's current coach was a player under Fran Dunphy. Picked to finish fourth in the preseason Ivy League polls, Penn will need to find a way to take down Harvard, Princeton and Yale if they want to make a serious run at the league title. Out of conference, watch for them to give their Big 5 rivals, and some of their other non-conference opponents, a legitimate scare.

(4) The St. Joseph's University Hawks @ the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8 p.m. / Fox College Sports / 610 AM)
I'd have to go back to 2004 to remember the last time I was this emotionally invested in a St. Joseph's basketball team for all the right reasons. After years of wishing little but ill upon them as proud a Temple Owl, I am completely and totally in the tank for Langston Galloway. There's no way around it. I hate that he plays for the Hawks, but I firmly believe he's the real deal. And he'll need to be if they're going to succeed.

Carl Jones has more talent than he knows what to do with, but he still needs to find a way to channel that talent into an ability to make more responsible decisions with the basketball. C.J. Aiken, on the other hand, has more of a physical body than he knows what to do with. Honestly, I've never seen a basketball player with less natural physical movements. Still, he's one hell of a shot blocker—actually, he's one of the best in the nation. Just do yourself a favor Phil, teach the kid a post move. At his height, the ability to play face up should be a nice feature, not his dominant offensive weapon.

The Hawks have a lot of young talent, and their surprising run in last year's A10 tournament gives rise to optimism. Am I reall
y going to root for St. Joe's to do more than just beat 'Nova this year (which I also haven't done for the last five years)? Sheesh. Moving on...

(5) The Temple University Owls vs. the Penn Quakers (Monday / 7 p.m. / 1210 AM)
After every game for the last two seasons, I've listened to Fran Dunphy tell the media, "I don't know where this program would be without Lavoy Allen." And now, here we are.

The Owls absurdly talented and experienced back court is contrasted with their troublingly thin and inexperienced front court. Michael Eric not only needs to stay healthy given an expected substantial increase in minutes, but needs to continue his improvement from last year at both ends of the floor.

Expect a lot of four guard action from the Owls this season, especially when small forward Scootie Randall returns from injury. In the meantime, he'll more than likely be replaced in the starting line-up by last year's A10 Sixth Man of the Year Khalif Wyatt. We all know what the Owls have in the back court, and they figure to absolutely frightening in the open floor, but they'll need those guards to play a big part in rebounding the basketball. They'll also need substantial contributions from junior Rhalir Jefferson and red-shirt freshman Anthony Lee at the power forward position to take some of the load off Eric in the middle.

As mentioned up top, they'll kick-off the Big 5 season schedule Monday night against Penn. One night later, Villanova squares off against La Salle.

Basketball is back. No one tell the NBA.

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

NBA Finals: Warriors coach Steve Kerr not well yet , but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Golden State's Steve Kerr expects to decide soon whether he will coach in the NBA Finals, saying Monday he's not yet ready but hasn't ruled himself out for Game 1.

Kerr said: "As of right now I would not coach Thursday night. It's still up in the air." He said that by Game 1, he might make a decision on his status.

The reigning NBA Coach of the Year, still not feeling well after a May 5 procedure to repair a spinal fluid leak, addressed the media Monday when acting coach Mike Brown was out with the flu.

He joked: "I told the team the good news is the team is really healthy, the bad news is the coaching staff is dropping like flies."

Brown has been coaching the team since Game 3 of the first round at Portland, with Kerr assisting at practice and from the locker room before and during games.

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Inside Doop: How a record win streak came to an end

Over the course of a long season, there are forgettable games where few things — or players — stand out.

Saturday night’s Union game out in Salt Lake City seemed like one of those — but will still be remembered for the fact that it ended a record winning streak.

Here’s a closer look at the 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake that snapped Philly’s four-game winning and six-game unbeaten streaks, as well as a look ahead for a team that will now look to start another one.

Three thoughts about Saturday’s game
1. There was one play early in the game that could have been exceptional as Haris Medunjanin lofted a pinpoint over-the-top pass from midfield to Fafa Picault, who got behind the defense and controlled it perfectly. But Picault’s first attempt and his follow-up were both saved — the second on a goal-line clearance from defender Aaron Maund — and the Union had few other good chances as their offense dried up. That was perhaps, bound to happen, after the team, led in part by the strong play of newcomers Medunjanin and Picault, scored multiple goals in every other game this month.

2. While Nick Rimando showed why he’s the most accomplished MLS goalie ever by earning the shutout, Andre Blake showed why he’s the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year with even better saves, including a few spectacular diving and leaping ones. Blake certainly wasn’t to blame for the Union’s eight-game winless streak to start the season but he also wasn’t making the kind of game-changing saves Philly fans grew accustomed to last year. Now that he is, it’s one of the big reasons why the Union are back in the playoff race, despite Saturday’s loss. 

3. Although it didn’t really show earlier in the season, one of the Union’s biggest strengths is depth at the winger position as they have four players — Picault, Chris Pontius, Ilsinho and Fabian Herbers — who are capable MLS starters. But with Herbers injured and Ilsinho sliding over to the central midfield, head coach Jim Curtin needed to call upon rookie Marcus Epps as his first winger off the bench. It was a difficult MLS debut playing on the road, across the country, with the team pushing for a late goal. But Curtin likes throwing guys into the fire to see what they’re made of, and will likely use Epps’ minutes in Utah as a springboard moving forward.

Three questions for the week ahead
1. The Union had a busy end of the month, flying out to Salt Lake City a few days after a three-games-in-eight-day stretch. But they also have 15 days between MLS games following Saturday’s contest vs. New York City FC at Yankee Stadium (1:00, 6ABC). So does Curtin opt to give guys some rest because of the former or trot out the same lineup because of the latter? There are also other things to consider, including the fact that the Union will open U.S. Open Cup play on June 14 — often an ideal time to give minutes to younger guys and backups.

2. One particular position to watch is the No. 10 attacking midfield spot. Ilsinho had filled in beautifully there in place of the injured Roland Alberg, particularly during a 2-0 win over Houston on May 17. But he was mostly invisible vs. RSL, a game in which Alberg returned from a three-game absence. Considering both have never really been 90-minute players and have similar playmaking abilities, could Curtin consider a platoon with Alberg and Ilsinho? Or will Ilsinho return to the wing, at least until Herbers returns from his injury?

3. Another spot to watch is the backline, which had been mostly kept intact during the team’s six-game unbeaten run. But now that the team lost, will Curtin go back to starters Keegan Rosenberry and/or Richie Marquez? What about Josh Yaro, who’s on the mend from shoulder surgery? The makeshift group that included Jack Elliott, Oguchi Onyewu, and Ray Gaddis should be commended for changing the course of the season, but it seems unlikely that Rosenberry and Marquez will remain on the bench must longer considering they were two of the team’s most promising players last year.

Stat of the week
Fabinho played his 100th MLS game Saturday. The only other players to surpass 100 games for the Union have been Sebastien Le Toux, Brian Carroll, Sheanon Williams, Gaddis and Amobi Okugo.  

Quote of the week
“A good run of six games comes to an end for us now. We’ll have to look forward to starting a new streak as we go away to New York City next week.”

— Union manager Jim Curtin 

Player of the week
Andre Blake got the loss but still had one of his best games of the season, wowing the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium on more than one occasion.